The Spirit of prophecy tells us: "Among the Catholics there are many who are most conscientious Christians, and who walk in all the light that shines upon them; and God will work in their behalf."—Gospel Workers, p. 329. These words are a source of comfort for every missionary who labors in a field where there are many. Catholics. Nevertheless, the large number of Catholics in the countries of Latin America make difficult the proclamation of the Advent message.
I confess that for some time a wrong attitude on my part brought me into needless conflict with Catholics. So much so that when explaining Matthew 24 I spoke strongly of the Inquisition. I acquired a collection of slides that showed the tortures that applied to the obstinate and rebellious. In each friar I saw an enemy, in each monk a poor victim, and in every Catholic, a fanatic. I preferred to deal with skeptics, agnostics, and atheists rather than with those who professed the Catholic religion. Since this attitude provoked opposition among the Catholics, it very evidently was a mistaken one, and fruitless. By this erroneous method it was impossible to gain Catholics to the truth.
I remembered that my mother had been won by the Advent message in France from the ranks of Catholicism. I observed that many faithful Catholics possessed a sound Christian spirit, as shown by their pious lives dedicated to devotion and charity. I noticed that there were many who lived sincerely within the light that they had, and that they willingly submitted themselves to heavy and painful penitence with resignation.
Since what I observed indicated that these people lived lives dedicated to Christ, I thought, Why not bring to them the message in such a manner that they cannot help thinking and feeling that in Adventism they are in the presence of genuine Christianity? Why not work in such a manner that a Catholic is led to believe that he is advancing from one stage of historic Christianity to the genuine and apostolic Christianity?
When I considered Catholics in general to be profoundly sincere, I felt an inward change of heart that led me to change my outward attitude. I began to feel a Christlike love for Catholics. I became interested in their beliefs and writings, and I was not able to find satisfaction in speaking of the Inquisition. I changed my arguments and the subjects of my lectures, also the tone of my voice. And I left off using a large number of my slides.
What was the result of this change of attitude? I had a greater attendance at my meetings, and a larger audience remained throughout the length of the meetings. Numerous priests came to the meetings, who helped by their very presence to give confidence to Catholic members. Invitations even came from priests and monks to give lectures in their own convents and schools. Finally, there was a priest who received a series of Bible studies over a period of several months, and he soon recognized the importance of the message he heard. A teacher in a school of nuns accepted the truth, and today is in the work as a Bible instructor. Many strong Catholic families were converted, who used to take communion and go to mass regularly. A number of priests, who later were forbidden to attend the meetings, still write me and request all the publications that I can give them.
Adopt Methods of Apostle Paul
Is it worth the effort to adapt ourselves to the Catholic mind in the same form the apostle approached the Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, and Jews? I assuredly believe so. Such work is more blessed in fruitage. During eternity it will be possible to continue to enjoy the fruit of our prudent labor in behalf of the souls that adore God as the Roman centurion Cornelius did. His prayers, I am sure, were recognized by Heaven. In order that Cornelius might be illuminated, God had to remove Peter's prejudice.
It causes me deep sorrow to see that there are many workers in our ranks who still continue working as I began to do two decades ago. I followed the example of other workers whom I considered experienced, but who, despite their good intentions, were victims of the very opposition they provoked, because of their, having neglected the principles clearly expressed by the Spirt of prophecy.
Today I consider it a privilege to work among the Catholics. I have adopted as a standard of conduct among them fifteen principles given us through the Spirit of prophecy in the book Gospel Workers.
1. "Those who have been educated in the truth by precept arid example, should make great allowance for others who have had no knowledge of the Scriptures except through the interpretations given by ministers and church-members, and who have received traditions and fables as Bible truth. They are surprised by the presentation of truth; it is as a new revelation to them, and they cannot bear to have all the truth, in its most striking character, presented to them at the outset.
2. "All is new and strange, and wholly unlike that which they have heard from their ministers; and they are inclined to believe what the ministers have told them,—that Seventh-day Adventists are infidels, and do not believe the Bible. Let the truth be presented as it is in Jesus, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.
3. "Let not those who write for our papers make unkind thrusts and allusions that will certainly do harm, and that will hedge up the way, and hinder us from doing the work that we should do in order to reach all classes, the Catholics included. It is our work to speak the truth in love, and not to mix in with the truth the unsanctified elements of the natural heart, and speak things that savor of the same spirit possessed by our enemies. All sharp thrusts will come back upon us in double measure when the power is in the hands of those who can exercise it for our injury.
4. "Over and over the message has been given to me, that we are not to say one word, not to publish one sentence, especially by way of personalities,—unless positively essential in vindicating the truth,—that will stir up our enemies against us, and arouse their passions to a white heat. Our work will soon be closed up ; and soon the time of trouble, such as never was, will come upon us, of which we have but little idea.
5. "The Lord wants His workers to represent Him, the great missionary worker. The manifestation of rashness always does harm. The proprieties essential for Christian life must be learned daily in the school of Christ. He who is careless and heedless in uttering words or in writing words for publication to be sent broadcast into the world, sending forth expressions that can never be taken back, is disqualifying himself to be entrusted with the sacred work that devolves upon Christ's followers at this time.
6. "Those who practice giving harsh thrusts, are forming habits that will strengthen by repetition, and will have to be repented of. We should carefully examine our ways and our spirit, and see in what manner we are doing the work given us of God, a work which involves the destiny of souls. The very highest obligation is resting upon us.
7. "Satan s standing ready, burning with zeal to inspire the whole confederacy of satanic agencies, that he may cause them to unite with evil men, and bring upon the believers of truth speedy and severe suffering. Every unwise word that is uttered by our brethren will be treasured up by the prince of darkness. How dare finite human intelligences speak careless and venturesome words that will stir up the powers of hell against the saints of God, when Michael the archangel durst not bring against Satan a railing accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke thee'?
8. "It will be impossible for us to avoid difficulties and suffering. Jesus said, 'It must needs be that offenses come ; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' But because offenses will come, we should be careful not to stir up the natural temperament of those who love not the truth, by unwise words, and by the manifestation of an unkind spirit.
9. "Precious truth must be presented in its native force. The deceptive errors that are wide-spread, and that are leading the world captive, are to be unveiled. Every effort possible is being made to ensnare souls with subtle reasonings, to turn them from the truth to fables, and to prepare them to be deceived by strong delusions. But while these deceived souls turn from the truth to error, do not speak to them one word of censure.
10. "Seek to show them their danger, and to reveal to them how grievous is their course of action toward Jesus Christ; but let it be done in pitying tenderness. By a proper manner of labor some of the souls who are ensnared by Satan may be recovered from his power. But do not blame and condemn them. To ridicule the position held by those who are in error, will not open their blind eyes, nor attract them to the truth.
11. "When men lose sight of Christ's example, and do not pattern after His manner of teaching, they become self-sufficient, and go forth to meet Satan with his own manner of weapons. The enemy knows well how to turn his weapons upon those who use them. Jesus spoke only words of pure truth and righteousness.
12. "If ever a people needed to walk in humility before God, it is His church, His chosen ones in this generation. We all need to bewail the dullness of our intellectual faculties, the lack of appreciation of our privileges and opportunities. We have nothing whereof to boast. We grieve the Lord Jesus Christ by our harshness, by our unchristlike thrusts. We need to become complete in Him.
13. "It is true that we are commanded to 'cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.' This message must be given; but we should be careful not to thrust and crowd and condemn those who have not the light that we have. We should not go out of our way to make hard thrusts at Catholics.
14. "Among the Catholics there are many who are most conscientious Christians, and who walk in all the light that shines upon them; and God will work in their behalf. Those who have had great privileges and opportunities, but who have failed to improve their physical, mental, and moral powers, and have lived to please themselves, refusing to bear their responsibility, are in greater danger and in greater condemnation before God, than those who are in error upon doctrinal points, yet who seek to live to do good to others.
15. "Do not censure others ; do not condemn them. If we allow selfish considerations, false reasoning, and false excuses to bring us into a perverse state of mind and heart, so that we do not know the ways and will of God, we shall be far more guilty than the open sinner. We need to be very cautious in order that we may not condemn those who, before God, are less guilty than ourselves."—Gospel Workers, pp. 325-329.
In view of this divinely inspired counsel we must recognize that many times we have not worked in harmony with it. As a consequence our poorly considered actions have produced reactions on the part of Catholics that to us have seemed difficult to understand. We have repelled rather than attracted. We have put barriers in the way by our wrong impulses, instead of smoothing the way of the Lord. The promise that God will work in behalf of Catholics should be to us a cause of mediation, prayer, and sanctified activity in seeking the wisdom that emanates from the love of God. We need the Spirit of Jesus to help us work in a proper manner, and the constant influence of the Holy Spirit.
In Latin America and in all the Catholic countries of Europe, God will work powerfully in behalf of those who still are ignorant of the great truths of the threefold message. We are to be cd-workers in the great work that will soon be realized.